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A Guide to Drugs and the Brain



Drug Effects

Drug Research

Drug Street Names

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Heroin is one of several highly addictive drugs derived from the opium poppy plant, along with morphine, opium, Dilaudid, and others. People inject opiates, snort them or take them by mouth.

Scientists first began to understand how drugs act on the brain with the discovery of the opiate receptor. Why would the human nervous system have a receptor for an illegal drug? This question led scientists to the discovery of two natural substances in the brain, which they named endorphins and enkephalins, that bind to this receptor and relieve pain. Opiate drugs such as heroin fit into this receptor, change the way the brain works, and produce addiction. Heroin may depress the body's ability to withstand infection. It produces euphoria, drowsiness, respiratory depression, constricted pupils and nausea. It is the drug most often associated with the transmission of HIV/AIDS because most users inject the drug, often with used, contaminated needles.
As heroin leaves the brain and body, users experience withdrawal symptoms (often described as feeling like a severe case of flu.) They include watery eyes, runny nose, yawning, loss of appetite, tremors, panic, chills, sweating, nausea, muscle cramps, and insomnia. Blood pressure, pulse, respiration, and temperature all elevate. People can overdose on heroin, which reduces the number of messages the brain sends to the chest muscles. The person's breathing slows, and, if the dose is high enough, stops. Heroin use during pregnancy is associated with low birth weight, stillbirths, placental abruptions, and sudden death syndrome. Babies of addicts are born dependent on the drug and must go through withdrawal as their first task in life.

Common Street Names
Lady, white girl, horse, black tar, brown sugar, smack, goods, H, junk.

Legal Status
Heroin is a Schedule I drug in the U.S. Controlled Substances Act. It is illegal to grow, process, sell or use heroin. Morphine and other opiate derivatives are in lower schedules because they have been approved by the Food and Drug Administration as safe and effective for use in medicine. They are potent pain relievers.

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